3. Moonlight


Writer/director Barry Jenkins treads into rare territory with Moonlight. It is a poetic, allegorical story about homosexual awakening. Moonlight is told in three acts with a different actor playing the part of the protagonist. We first meet Chiron as a lonely, fatherless, poor African-American boy in Miami. He is mentored by a drug dealer (Mahershala Ali), who tells Chiron to believe in himself, but addicted his mother (Naomie Harris) to crack. Chiron, branded "Little" by the other children, begins a friendship with another boy that becomes carnal. The results are devastating, changing the course of his life until a truthful reckoning.

Moonlight is patient filmmaking at its best. Music and time express what the primary character cannot say in multiple scenes. The film has a very similar feel to Richard Linklater's Boyhood. It's a completely different setting and story, but has the same message about growing up. Let no one define who you are. Moonlight is absolutely brilliant.

4. The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

From South Korean Director Park Chan-Wook, The Handmaiden is based on the Victorian novel "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters. The setting is updated to 1930's Korea under Japanese colonial rule. A Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) lives an isolated life in the country. She is the virtual prisoner of her brutish uncle, Kouzuki (Jo Jin-woon). A slick con man, Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), has engineered an elaborate scam to steal Hideko's fortune. He enlists Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri), a nubile girl and master pickpocket, to be her devoted handmaiden. His plan, for Sook-Hee to subtly push the introverted Hideko into his clutches.

The Handmaiden is the most sexually explicit major release since Blue is the Warmest Color. Be forewarned, this one is a barn burner. Park stages titillating interactions that will melt your eyeballs and leave your heart a flutter. He is a master of tension in these scenes. From casual flirtation to full on flesh grinding, this is the definition of adult material. But it is not salacious or cheap. Seduction is an art and a science. As these characters explore each other, the narrative blurs and the mystery deepens. The sex is integral to the story.

The plot is clever and shrouded in layers. We see events from several points of view as the reveals play out. Park's script is spectacularly well-written. I'll liken it to The Usual Suspects or Fight Club. There's a lot going on the surface, but even more than you think once the veil is lifted.